BLOOM’S REVISIONARY RATIOS — WHY? The positioning of the whole case for metalepsis “on top of” Harold Bloom’s system of revisionary ratios seems loony at first.1 First of all, why should there by any correlation of terms? Second, wouldn’t the search for any correlation require stretching meanings one way or another to make them fit? (This is the famous story of “Procrustes’ Bed” — you can look that up!) The last but not least objection might be that Bloom himself did not suggest or even recognize the possibility of any “system” uniting his six terms. Objection ONE: This is the kind of speculation that loses us nothing if it’s wrong, but gains a considerable amount if there turns out to be something in it. Speculation is made in the play-money of the imagination. It is not really expensive, and like any game it has forced us to get out and exercise a bit; to leave our accustomed comfortable mental habitations. If we don’t win there is still the gain of the novelties we might not have encountered otherwise. Objection TWO: A search for connections between things that are not originally or literally connected requires an important mental ability — the skill of conjuring up different CONTEXTS. The existence of any relationship depends on the context in which that relationship makes sense. The American expression “politics makes strange bedfellows” means that, in the struggle for control and influence, adjustments to the hidden structures of power sometimes bring together people who would otherwise not associate. Every meaning is grounded in the assumptions of a background that can be changed with a “what if?” AND, when we look to the context, we are using the calculus of metalepsis to work out the circuitry. Objection THREE: It’s not a pity that Bloom did not think of any “system” linking his six ratios. It’s a great advantage. He did not stress any internal relationships, but they are there in the obvious fact that they appear in a single book, addressing a single problem (escaping the burdensome influence of a poetic precursor). We discover a system because Bloom himself compares this problem of writing (for us, the problem of limited/unlimited semiosis) to the relationship of someone fleeing (askesis) a master stronger than him/herself (demon). AMAZING, but Bloom does not develop this internal “parallel”! We take these two terms as central or main ones. Think of Iris Murdoch’s novel Flight from the Enchanter. We are always running from something that, despite the fear it embodies, fascinates us. There is the double of attraction and fright, passion and anxiety — perfect recipe for the psyche, and a perfect way to discover exactly what Ché vuoi? is all about!
Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Originally published in 1973, Bloom’s six “revisionary ratios” drew from classical religion and mythology to describe the situation of the younger poet to the older and stronger poet. Initially captivated and paralyzed by the older poet’s mastery, the younger poet faced the “forced choice” of poetic ideology: copy (and be misrecognized) or remain silent. In order to break this spell, the younger poet was forced to reverse the logic of the forced choice and “renounce” the older poet by, in effect, misrepresenting the older poet’s position. This created a space, a very small space, for developing a new and stronger theory, for converting the “voice of the dead” into prophecy. Bloom’s use of the idea of anxiety was apt. As Freud put it, anxiety (Angst) was related to the other forms of fear (anxiety as general, fear as targeted, fright as immediate) in terms of proximity. Thus, distance is the potentiality of feeling that operates without the factor of presence; feeling that operates at a distance that serves to calculate risk; and feeling that is based on a collapse of distance. Note that these three levels of fear correlate to the three steps of negation, denial (Verneinung), reununciation (Verleugnung), and foreclosure (Verwerfung). Using negation as a wedge, Bloom’s system opens up to the logic of eros/dæmon, which is the curious attractiveness of evil, and the equally curious repulsiveness of good. With the cross-inscription of reversed predication at hand — we cannot avoid it! — we must write eros/dæmon as EG and GE. The “problem of good and evil” therefore must involve reversed predication and, hence, metalepsis. Bloom has not recognized this, and this is the limit of his version of his own theory, but our advantage (i.e. it remains to be developed).
Kunze / Bloom — Why?
Even if Bloom might object to our manipulation of his terms, we could defend ourselves architecturally. “Tesseræ” has been in the architecture critical vocabulary for a long time. It has to do with the “perfect match” suggested in the use of symmetries, repetition, memory, and accident. “Apophrades,” the voice/return of the dead, has a role in all sacred space, and is an important part of the political spaces of cities. Clinamen, coming from Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, offers us a new way of looking at the relation of utilitas, firmitas, and venustas. With Eros as the “odd man out” of the three terms, we can imagine how Eros, as dæmon, works to unsettle and re-arrange relationships of stability. The idea that firmitas is the “unseen hand” ordering the daily back-and-forth exchanges of utilitas allows us to addres the matter of emergence directly. Eros and firmitas act “along the same dimensions,” in a dialectic. One tries to impose an order, the other tries to disrupt it: dæmon and askesis!2 As for kenosis, there is a considerable history — mainly in theology. The Essenes, the desert society of mystics (whose membership may have included Jesus and John the Baptist), were strangely antisectarian. Like the Sufis, who inherited much of their poetry and “anti-theology” from the Essenes, the idea of kenosis steers away from polemic and dogma. Everything is process, just as in our case, we do not seek “theories” but rather “theorizing.” Kenosis was a “knowledge by half,” a speak-able poetic half and an unseen and unspeakable, silent half. When Vico articulated his theory of a “silent speech” (mythos literally means “mute”), and when Rancière took up this theme again in his work, they both pointed to the function of the break, the fracture, the incomplete part (cf. Lacan’s partial object, also the “deceased who forgets how to die” and, hence, the issue of the uncanny).3 We know that metalepsis is all about this kind of incompleteness, and that kenosis may in fact be the form taken by unlimited semiosis, or its result. Hitchcock’s film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, is about someone in danger for something he knows but does not know he knows. Assassins pursue him because they want to make sure he does not discover the importance of something he knows that he now things is not important. This is the model of kenosis, and a model for our own project: we seek to find out what CONTEXT brings what we know up to the status of something truly insightful. We already “know” it, but we do not know that we know it — i.e. we have not yet discovered the context that makes what we know important. This must be played out in a curious chase scene where our dæmon, Eros, both frightens and attracts us. Dæmon/askesis thus becomes a link connecting the external world’s great drama of intellectual discovery and our personal internal narrative, our function as “idiots.” We connect and sympathize to other artists, poets, and architects because the same idea must have occurred to them; and they in some circumstances must have thought of what to do or say about it. This is the main axiom of our “project” to forge a project of free subjectivity based on unlimited semiosis. The test is simple: without this axiom, could there possibly be any genius at all? Why would Holbein have put his curious date and time stamp on the back of his portrait of The Ambassadors? Why would Brueghel have bothered to place a partridge on a tree watching Icarus fall into the sea? Why would the painting of St.
The issue of the site of exception becomes clear with a Lucretian model, where utilitas flows evenly in a single direction, regulated “from above” by firmitas. This is the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith’s theory of emergence in free markets, but also the all-too-visible hand of drawings and specifications of architectural conditions. The vertical dimension opens up a “track” by which venustas may invade, as the dæmonic element disrupting utilitas, hence the idea and occasion of exception. Eric Santer has developed this in terms of “psychotheology” in his book about Franz Rosenzweig: Eric L. Santner, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). 3
The incomplete speech, which suggests a “silent partner,” is a standard fixture of rhetoric, where various “figures” call for an abrupt and inexplicable break. In “aposiopoiesis,” the speaker finds him/herself unable to continue, and the audience is left to guess why. Virgil uses this in Aeneas’s encounter with the images of the gates at Cumæ in Book 6. Before he can figure out the meaning of these eight panels, he is spirited away on his journey to the underworld (katabasis). Thus, ekphrasis is also in a real sense also a matter of incompleteness and also a model for the kind of spiritual detachment made by Scipio in Somnum Scipionis. Jacques Rancière and James Swenson, Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).
Kunze / Bloom — Why?
Jerome reveal another partridge on the sill of an opening through which God gazes at the translator of the Vulgate? There are other key examples to find in search of support of this axiom. Why would Hitchcock or Lynch obsess with their doubles and doubles of doubles? Where do writers and film-makers go to learn the “calculus” that uses visibility and invisibility with the same goals as the pickpocket, Apollo Robbins? We have not yet looked at some other key evidence pools: the story of Simonides (only a glimpse), the “table of Cebes,” the memory theater of Giulio Camillo — so many trips, so little time! At this key, critical mid-point in our study, we have to resist enthusiasm at the same time we push ourselves to speculate. We must always question the axioms that seem obvious and promising. But, our resistance is itself a part of the equation. Our second key axiom is … PARSIMONY. This strange unattractive word means that we try to do the most with the least. There is no real rational reason behind this, except as a principle of economy that seems to be universal.4 Without parsimony there would be no “principles” or “laws” of any kind. No concept of justice; no idea of order. Think of gravity. Gravity doesn’t care who or what you are, it considers you only as mass in acceleration. Yet, out of this simplification of things, the idea of the universe comes into being, along with it the notion of how energy is created and how life begins. Parsimony in critical theory is a fairness rule. If something is true in one situation, it should be true in others that are comparatively the same. We can’t all be idiots! That is, cases can’t just be unique; otherwise there could be no meaning, no memory, no culture, no anything. Parsimony is calculus. I can’t state this enough. Calculus is nothing more than parsimony. Bloom’s system is a calculus. The pyramid that Scarpa left among his notes is a calculus. The U.S. Constitution is a calculus. Our CVs are each a calculus describing how our past relates to our future. A calculus is “no big deal,” but it involves an economy of terms. SO, THE QUESTION BECOMES, “do all informal and formal calculus systems share any key properties?” Our graphic system of AB, where A◊B ≠/= φ/-φ and ◊=/≠, pretends to accommodate the three stages of childhood development and the drives that propel the subject into a relation with the “Ché vuoi?” and the forced choice of ideology. It also claims to be able to pry into the logic of key works of art and architecture. We use films to test this claim because, in films, we have a close connection to narrative structure and spaces and cinematic times that involve the “detached virtuality” of the four forms of the fantastic: the double, the contamination of reality by the dream or fiction, travel through time, or the story in the story. When the story in the story, for example, requires a >…>, and this reminds us immediately of Magritte’s Not to Be Reproduced (the man who sees his back while looking in a mirror, and the Poe novel on the sill below), we are literally forced to think how the calculus might discover the economy in both Magritte and Poe, and the relationship connecting them. And, when the idea of dæmon and askesis become involved in the spatiality of both Magritte and Poe, we are in business! The cost of pursuing the question of a single calculus is small, and mostly pleasurable. We watch films, we look at architecture that has grown over-familiar, we visit cities, we read novels and poems. We examine OTHER THEORIES to see where they break down, and we resist constructing any single theoretical edifice that terminates our speculation. We theorize, we don’t become satisfied with our “results.” 4
The curious status of “Occam’s razor” has been puzzled over many times. The idea of economy of means is not logical. A description can be accurate even if it does not condense. But, a compact account pleases more than an elaborate, long one, and this principle of esthetics seems to echo, in nature at large, the use of the one on behalf of the many. Karl Popper argued that we need not appeal to esthetics: that the principle of parsimony might be sustained on behalf of the greater exposure of theory to falsification (the truer a theory, the more risk it takes in being refuted). But, this is also an esthetic principle! Shouldn’t we consider that the “less is more” idea is grounded in the psychoanalytical goal, of allowing the analysand to find fewer symptoms to get to the issue of fantasy, rather than the numerous ones that involve many disruptive symptoms? The point is that parsimony is personal, it is an “idiotic” requirement that relates to the subject as subject.
Kunze / Bloom — Why?
Most of all, we use the resources of the calculus of metalepsis to entertain ourselves. Being curious about the world is, in general, healthier than serving time running through our own neurotic-psychotic symptoms that lead in the same track back to the same impasse. Our symptoms “are us,” so to speak, but like psychoanalysis, our calculus aims to provide a short circuit that reveals our relationship to our fantasies, which we have constructed in the face of the overpowering presence of the Real. Our own $◊a, our relation to our fantasies, must take into account our own divided nature (S with a “bar,” $) of conscious and unconscious. We are all “men/women who know too much.” Our relation to the unconscious is enigmatic. We face the Ché vuoi? in the modality of kenosis. Our relation to silence is the basis of our wisdom. This therapeutic aspect of theorizing, and the need for parsimony/calculus, is idiotic. It benefits us in a private way that resists being shared. But, this resistance is universal. It connects Holbein with Camillo with Antonello with Picasso with Scarpa with … — in other words, all “strong thinkers” have considered their relationship to idiocy. It is what has connected them, and what has made them consider the usefulness of “signalizing.” When we can’t say something openly we construct a code that communicates to others in our same situation. Only someone who is trapped by the same circumstances that trap us will understand the code. The code must “make it past the censors” intact. There is a Soviet-era joke that Žižek has retold in several places. Two friends devise a system to stay connected while one of them goes to work in Siberia. They know that the censors will remove all negative reports, so they decide to use black ink when saying something untrue and red ink when saying the truth. In the first letter, the Siberian worker friend writes: “Things are great here; the housing is perfectly comfortable, the city is clean and interesting, and all the people are helpful and friendly. The only problem is that none of the shops carry red ink!” The friend has signalized by referring to the communication system itself. This is metalepsis at its purest — self-reference! When we can talk about what we talk about in this way, we construct an extra dimension that allows us to step back from the very system that seems to enclose us completely and entirely. Like Scipio, who dreams that he has gone to heaven and is able to look back on earth and its mortals in Macrobius’s book, Scipio’s Dream, we become “dead” (cf. Lacan’s “between the two deaths,” DA) in order to understand how it is that others are “dead without realizing it (AD). Our “impossible point of view,” made through a calculus of metalepsis, allows us to see the relationships that disrupt but redefine the “causal chain” of reality.5 This extra dimension is not just a fiction. We can find it IN the examples of “silent language,” where idiots like us have decided that it is possible to create a community of idiots based on a code, a cipher. Once admitted through this tiny passageway of idiocy, our semiosis is unlimited. The thought is a bit macabre: once dead, “what can they do to us?” We have the extra dimension of freedom that allows subjectivity to travel in any direction. Is this theme of death not “over the top” for a seminar on critical theory? The test is to look at other examples of semiosis-expansion, where a “silent language” has been employed, to find if there is not also some reference to the same strategy. Indeed, we find a treasure-trove: Mulholland Drive, Vertigo, and Dead of Night (these are just a few) offer us not just examples but blue-prints of the “death dream” motif. The point of the death dream is paradoxical: it allows us to create the short5
Scipio’s Dream (Somnum Scipionis) is an important document in the history of metalepsis. It relates this rhetorical figure to the shamanistic practice of dream-travel and hypnosis, following the universal belief in the relation of dreams and death. Written as a commentary, the late Roman author Macrobius took the then-famous work of Cicero, which had in turn taken the then-famous story of the myth of Er (Plato, The Republic) as its starting point. How it was that Scipio, in being shown “the Real” by his famous uncle in a dream, would use the process of cross-inscription (those on earth believed themselves to be alive but were really dead in terms of their souls, while those in heaven, who were officially dead, were actually alive in a much more fundamental sense) is a matter of Macrobius’s understanding of the site of exception. He is also the author of the Saturnalia, a book detailing the practices of the famous Roman holiday where servants and masters change places and where, in the interval of “non-time” between the old and new year, Roman intellectuals gathered to discuss matters of the occult. This is precisely the same setting of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, Bocaccio’s Decameron, and other “retreats” that “take time out” to consider the Big Issues.
Kunze / Bloom — Why?
circuits that life did not permit. Its aim is psychoanalytical and, thus, theoretical. It wants to simplify our symptom structure, to get in touch with our fantasies. It wants us to “succeed as being idiots.” Bloom is “no idiot,” but he does offer us a means to use his signalizing — his own silent unification motives — as a basis for our own calculus. Bloom is not essential, but how can we do without clinamen, tesseræ, kenosis, apophrades, dæmon, or askesis in any pursuit of critical meaning? Although these words need not appear as such, we cannot afford to write off the debt to these historical ideas whose terminology comprises a certain key economy. It is one vocabulary; there are others. But, it is a vocabulary whose vagueness is an advantage as we see prismatic meanings contained within that permit unlimited permutations and combinations. The system itself yields a certain kind of emergent meaning — which is in the end a kind of definition of unlimited semiosis. It’s what happens when we become the “perfect idiot.”6
On this matter we have to take seriously William Faulkner’s employment of the idiot, Benjy, in his novel The Sound and the Fury. Benjy is the revelatory prophet of the novel, but his wisdom is intimately tied to spatial order. Faulkner also wrote the novel “in code,” embedding multiple directions of reading that produced different effects. Was this idea related to Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot? This would all be too good to be true, but in the magical kingdom of metalepsis, it’s worth pursuing. The role of the fool as a jester in the courts of Europe through the Middle Ages and early modern periods suggests that the dæmon was a matter of central concern, and that, even after royalty has vanished from the scene, the need for idiots has not. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (New York: Modern Library, 1992).
Kunze / Bloom — Why?